Report: Student suspensions have dropped under Texas law

DALLAS (AP) - The rate of student suspensions in Texas has fallen by nearly a third since the state enacted a law barring schools from suspending children except under extreme circumstances, according to a children's advocacy group.

The 2017 law allows suspensions for major violations such as assault or bringing a weapon or drugs to school.

Texas public schools meted out more than 101,000 in- and out-of-school suspensions to students in pre-K to second grade during the 2015-16 school year, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Advocacy group Texans Care for Children released a report Wednesday showing that that figure dropped by 31% for the 2017-18 school year, to 70,197.

Youngsters in foster care, black children and those in special education were most likely to be suspended.

In early 2017, the Dallas Independent School District was among the first Texas districts to pass a policy restricting suspensions in pre-K through second grade.

Domonique Givens said a few years ago, before the Dallas district changed its policy, her now fourth-grade daughter was suspended when she stood up to a bully. She said she hopes that her son, a first-grader who has attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, won't face the same sort of punishment as educators receive more training in alternative methods to address student needs.

"If kids are suspended and not in class, then they aren't learning," Givens said. "And when a kid acts up that early, there's usually an underlying issue that's causing it. That's why I talk with my children's teachers often so we all know if there are any issues."

For the 2018-19 school year, Dallas' school district reported no out-of-school suspensions for pre-K to second grade and less than 10 in-school suspensions for such grades.

Since the 2017 state law took effect, out-of-school suspensions have decreased by almost 80%, from 36,475 during the 2015-16 school year to 7,640 two years later, according to Texans Care for Children.

The Killeen school district alone accounted for 54% of Texas' out-of-school suspensions for pre-K and 44% of in-school suspensions for that grade in 2017-18, the report found.

Eric Penrod, deputy superintendent of Killeen's school district, conceded that the district likely had not been putting enough emphasis on alternative discipline methods in earlier years.

Killeen's district has since allotted about $1.5 million to address mental health and other needs, including using certified clinical psychologists to help teachers recognize students' needs.

"We want to maximize everything we can to be proactive to help kids at an earlier age so that they are reaping the benefits," Penrod said.

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com